Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 51- Invisible Man

Join hosts Tori and Amanda as they celebrate Black History Month and kick off the celebrated occasion by covering Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and spend a lot of time talking about the black experience in America.

On Juneteenth

I opened up my shop with a particular design. It’s this one.

Legally a Full Person SinceJune 19th, 1865.png

 

I put it up as mostly a humorous joke but also as an acknowledgement of a holiday that is very important to many Southerners of color. Juneteenth is a holiday that I am not shocked that many know of. It’s mostly of value to Texans. The legend goes that Texas was the final hold out for freeing their slaves post the Emancipation Proclamation but eventually, on June 19th, the Texas slaves were freed.

The holiday is usually celebrated with barbeques and potlucks and community events.  I know I celebrated the holiday with my dad’s side of the family a few times; the holiday is a day after my parent’s wedding anniversary and we often spent the time with his family out in Crockett. There were t-shirts and food and family: all the hallmarks of a black family’s summer gathering. My mom’s side of the family did celebrate it, her extended family did. My aunts would find a reason to party at anytime but I can’t recall any celebration that was explicitly for Juneteenth.

And every once in a while, I’ll see someone say they’re hosting an event for Juneteenth and it makes me happy: but I don’t always know if those people know what they are celebrating.

As a black person, I have not been legally a full person for 200 years yet. That day won’t come until I am in my 70’s. That’s when we as a race can say we have been free for 200 years. This is not a far removed history: this is, on a historical scale, incredibly recent. As far as wars go, the Civil War was not that long ago but because of how history has been written, it feels like an eternity. White guilt quickly filled in the cracks and perpetuated a narrative that slavery wasn’t so bad and that the Civil War was basically just two neighbors bickering over something trivial: it was not.

And I think sometimes we forget that after the 5th hot link and Big Red of the day. I think we forget that after cornbread and slow jams. I think we forget that after gossip and storytelling.

But we shouldn’t.

The last time I wrote like this, it was about being LGBT in a post-Trump America.

As a black person, I feel the same way. I feel like now there is even more pressure to be black but to be a very certain kind of black.

I, like many African-Americans, am severely culturally abandoned. Look at how many times we’ve covered the topic on this blog. But the racism that this great nation likes to hide is very much alive and well now since the well, person running the country, took charge. Even more so now, we have to be vocal. We have to talk about our history and our experience because we will forget that power. It is being silenced. The whole debate around Confederate statues shows us that there are folks who have been actively trying to change the history of the United States for hundreds of years.  

And I know I say this from a remarkable place of privilege. I have a mostly supportive but very loving family. I have resources that are enviable to many. And even my skin tone is a part of the privilege that I was born into. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t stand and fight with you. Even writing this is me showing that I’m willing to support the cause of a more tolerant America: across all spectrums of what that means. For my brothers and sisters who are more tied to the Motherland. For those of us who are culturally abandoned. For the rest of us who are somewhere in between. We are all valid and while this world may not be kind and may even be hateful, know that you are valid and you are excellent as you are.

This year, if you do celebrate Juneteenth: remember why we celebrate this holiday. If you do not, research the day and join in the festivities.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone.

Stay strong.

 

Thoughts from Wakanda: Musings after Seeing Black Panther

I was afraid to see this movie.

I was afraid that people were going to cinnamon roll the hell out of this film. I was afraid that people were only going to see a diverse cast and ignore any flaws or faults in this film and mostly that has not been true.

Dear reader, I really liked that movie. I loved that movie. It isn’t perfect, but while it’s still fresh in my mind: I wanted to pen down a few of the thoughts about The Black Panther and what it means right now to be black, to be African-American, to be a nerd and to leave a movie theater while pterodactyl screeching.

  • Okay, so Alamo Drafthouse decked this movie out with some of the best promo material and all. Seriously, I’m getting spoiled to the Drafthouse. And all the previews made me giggle.
  • I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with my friend who is also named Amanda and she is white and real talk: she was way more excited to see this movie than I was and we spent a lot of time talking about the fact that this movie is objectively more important to me but she was the one screaming about Wakanda.
  • We also got to have several moments where she wanted to compliment women in beautiful African dress but didn’t feel it was right, so in those times I acted as her surrogate: not that I didn’t also find these outfits beautiful, I’ve seen them before and they don’t hold the same meaning to me.
  • Additionally, I don’t think much of Africa: I came from a family that was never much tied to our own blackness. Remembering Africa meant remembering Slavery and my family chose to focus on bettering their lives than remembering a land so many of us didn’t know.

Here’s a good place for me to talk about my position on and history with Black Panther before the Marvel movies. Truthfully, my favorite run of his was during the 90s and 2000s when he was very much rooted in radical Afro-excellence while also still being very much the blacksploitation character he was created to be. I never had an issue with that as a youth but also fully know we cannot have the superhero equivalent of Coming to America now in 2018.
Let’s actually talk about the movie now: there will likely be spoilers.

  • The casting is AMAZING. There is not a single role that feels out of place or wrong. There is no one role that stood out more to me but dammit everyone was great.
  • I will say it was powerful as hell to see a movie full of beautiful, strong and important black people on screen. So powerful that I did not know that was something I needed until I saw it.
  • The action set pieces may be some of the best done by a Marvel movie: and while they’re actually pretty scarce: this is not as action-heavy as say Civil War was, it was still amazing.
  • The new suit is great, the special effects are great and the soundtrack was great.
  • I did not expect this movie to take me on the emotional ride it did. This movie is not dead parent approved but I am okay with that.
  • Also, how dare another comic book movie make a villian that ends up making more sense than the hero.
  • Andy Serkis is a treasure and it’s so good to see him on screen.
  • Martin Freeman is also a treasure and his American accent is quite good.
    • I was very impressed by this.
  • It was AMAZING to see women of color use technology and be more brilliant than Tony Stark in places.
  • The entire plot of how to deal with African wealth vs. African-American struggle hit me like I did not expect a comic book movie could.
  • I was giddy over the use of Zulu weapons and formations.
    • Seriously, this was like a LARP of the Deadliest Warrior episode that pitted Shaka Zulu against William Wallace.
  • SEEING WARRIOR WOMEN MADE ME SCREAM.
  • Stick around for that post-credits scene. It did upset me but it also did make me smile a little bit.
  • Killmonger is a very human character and his deadpan reactions to things added levity in places there needn’t be levity.
  • There was not a single character that felt out of place and that’s good for a Marvel movie.
  • The small cultural touches made me giddy. Killmonger’s scarification, the tattooed heads of warrior women…lip plates. ALL OF IT made me so happy. Yes, it is pan-Africanism but in the moment it was AWESOME.
  • There are lines in this movie that are so well-delivered that I almost choked on my Mr. Pibb several times. And that’s a damn good thing.

Now in this confluence of praise, I do have some issues with this film:

  • Killmonger is complex and his narrative is very interesting…is a word…it very much did remind me of the actual Black Panther party for better or worse. There’s just one problem with this: we have learned from history that militant African-Americans is not the way to promote equality. And his words ring so true in this era that many people likely will not see this as a problem: and that is the problem.
  • That’s actually just a general issue I had with the film that it does seem like the “villain’s” point of view is likely now one shared by many and in making such a sympathetic antagonist, his viewpoint: which mind you is wrong, seems very okay and normal and a valid way to feel.
  • This is a minor nitpick but the pan-Africanism did start to wear on me as the movie went on. There are so many different languages, religions, clothes and mannerisms that make each country in Africa unique so to see them all sort of just appropriated for the sake of a cool shot: it’s a minor pick but it did wear on me. And while in one breath I can say it’s cool, it also isn’t ideal. And yes, I know this is a fictional African-land but you’re in my world now, so deal with the nitpick.
  • Also there’s a Gorilla tribe that says to be loyal to Hanuman, who is a Hindu deity, which irked me. Not to say there are not Hindu people in Africa: but I’m sure the screenwriter needed a monkey god and just happened to find one.
  • This movie is tensionless. That isn’t a bad thing but despite all the hardship: we know T’Challa will be okay. We know he’s gonna be in Infinity Wars. But a lack of tension isn’t all terrible: just an annoying part of the whole franchise thing.
  • That post-credits scene did upset me a little because it didn’t seem like it was doing much but setting up the next movie and normally I’d be okay with that but as of yesterday, it made me the angry.
  • Some of the humor is meta and out of place and even though I laughed, it is still weak writing.

But all of that side, this movie is iconic and important. I never felt attached to being of African descent but for a moment, in a theater full of people in their finest cultural garb or even those of us just in dresses from Forever 21. I felt an attachment to a fictional place like no other. I felt beautiful and strong for being African-American and I didn’t feel weird for being black, being a geek and loving technology. This movie was the film we needed right now with our current…concerns as a nation and planet. And sure, I had problems with this movie but I am not going to let my personal issues with it diminish how important this film must be to people of color and people in general.
This is the opposite of Wonder Woman for me. Wonder Woman was a passable movie that you couldn’t critique because of how important it was. Black Panther is a great movie that also happens to be very important and while it isn’t perfect: it’s very easy to ignore those flaws.
But this movie is very much a product of today, right now and where we are as a nation, as people and as humans on this planet. It’s one of the biggest reasons I do not think this movie will age well: I think it so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be of color in an unkind world right now. This is not a perfect movie but considering that I walked in assuming that I would not like it and left hooting should tell you just how I feel about this film. It’s political, emotional and real and all coming from a character most only know because of his brief comic book marriage to a more iconic superhero.
I won’t say Wakanda Forever, because that isn’t the goal and shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is to be kind to each other, be better people and help when appropriate. So with that being said: Wakanda For Now.
And long may T’Challa reign.

The Dual Conciousness of the African-American Otaku

“An American, a Negro… two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W. E. B. Du Bois

It’s Black History Month I started thinking: I am painfully sometimes detached from my heritage as an African-American.

I grew up in a mostly white part of Texas. The few other black kids I remember growing up with were like me: mostly in white neighborhoods and were fairly “white” in speech and action. We watched cartoons, read comic books and even a few of us growing up were into anime and this was true for most of my childhood years and really up until middle school. We were all a pretty color-blind group of kids: a luxury of somewhat opulence and an upper-middle class upbringing.

The Barbies and dolls I owned were mostly white or Asian because I didn’t like the orange and yellow most of the African American dolls came in. I didn’t mind because I wasn’t looking for a simulation of me as a child I was looking for a totem;  a more solid way to manipulate and express my vivid childhood imagination. My imagination had somewhat transcended skin tone as well and despite the skin tone of my dolls not matching mine, I could easily slip into their world. The same goes for the books I read and the games I played: the same can still be said up to now.

High school was the first time I realized that I wasn’t quite like most of the other black kids at my school. Many times I was told that I “talked so white” to which I realized that when people said that they meant properly. This distressed me greatly. I didn’t much relate or connect to popular aspects of black culture. Hip-hop and rap confused me and I didn’t much care for sagging. My hair stays flat, relaxed and short. My music stays indie or punk and my dress is conservative and preppy.

I wasn’t particularly close to all of my dad’s side of the family: mostly citizens of Crockett and Palestine and the drudgery of the trip out there to visit them fed my somewhat disconnection to my heritage. It was easy to distance myself and continue to focus on the French Revolution, Poe’s poetry and my Japanese calligraphy.

My mother’s side of the family is incredibly proud of their heritage. Many are movers and shakers in Tuskegee. I come from a long line of airmen and distinguished Tuskegee University alum. Many attended Historically Black Colleges and are fantastic examples of what it means to be African-American. I found their goals and aspirations to be nearly too lofty and therefore it was easier to distance myself and continue to focus on the French Revolution, Poe’s poetry and my Japanese calligraphy.

In college I found other mostly culturally abandoned folks. Most had renounced their family lines to essentially become Japanese: adopting bowing, suffixes and the language. I surrounded myself with other people like me and the friends that I had that were also of color were in a similar boat: culturally abandoned and “talked white”. I was content to speak French throughout college but couldn’t tell you too much about my family and how its lines were drawn.

Being a cosplayer and anime fan especially made me realize that I had distanced myself from the color of my skin. I was never one hunting for representation in comics, anime, manga or video games. I was okay with Superman being white; I would rather him be white than a gross caricature. I delighted when powerful black superheroes arose like Green Lantern John Stewart and in Pokemon Y when I could make an avatar that looked like me I was thrilled. But I always accepted that the characters I cosplayed as were on screen or page white and I can count the times on my hand where I felt like my race has held me back from attempting a costume. Anime especially made me aware that representation would be a rare and treasured find but it didn’t take away from my experience realizing that it would be difficult to write for someone like me.

Now, I’m not culturally ignorant. I’m aware that I’m African-American and aware of much of the collective history of my people. My mother’s side of the family came up from sharecroppers to the status they are now. But the talk of slavery, reconstruction and Civil Rights were all far afield for me living in the 90s and 2000s; it was relevant historically but not to me in my daily life. The pictures from history books of slaves being tortured were numbing and damning but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t happening in my lifetime. The struggles of racism were somewhat beyond me. I have personally not struggled much as a black woman so stories of systemic racism have always made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.

The event that came to change my opinion and really force me to look at how far removed I was from my heritage was a family reunion trip. I had seen Tuskegee U. I had heard all the legends but it was when we visited the memorial to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that I had to confront my family line. If you’ve never heard of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study…it’s a lot, to be conservative and to be liberal: it’s just a damn shame; so here’s some context. Back in the early days of unregulated medical testing a group of doctors used less than sound practices to test the effects of syphilis on the body. They used mostly poor black men and infected somewhat the diseases saying they were trying out new vitamin supplements. Many men died. Many more survived but with serious medical conditions after the study. When the truth of the study finally came out many of the men because they were mostly poor and black were not given the right to sue the doctors and it mostly went down as a negative footnote in American history. In the 90s, then president Clinton set up a memorial and memorial fund for those that gave up their lives and health under less than noble practices. To learn more about this terrible aspect of American history check out this link: it’s very informative.

The memorial was a pit stop for the family reunion and I learned something: I had family in the study. I can’t quite put into words what I felt. I suppose it was all the anger and rage I should have felt over the graphic images of slavery in my old history text books. I felt angry; Django Unchained angry. I felt sad. I felt awful.

I also in that moment felt strongly African-American and proud to know that despite the horrors of the study that my family survived and then went on to thrive. But feeling connected to my heritage didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t up until that moment felt connected to it. I didn’t opt to go to a historically black college. Japanese and French are still my main languages and not modern Ebonics and I still keep my hair very straight and very flat. My education and my upbringing are part of my life but my personality and likes influence how I deal with things. I’m proud of my family, my heritage and my legacy: but I’m still culturally abandoned as not just an African-American but as an American in general.

I’ll probably always struggle with the parts of that are abandoned from being an American as much as I’ll struggle with the parts of me that are abandoned from being African-American. I think a few otakus struggle with this: loving a culture that isn’t exactly known for it’s tolerance of gaijin or foreigners. The great irony of being an otaku is embracing a culture that likely would not embrace many of the individuals that call Nihon home in spirit. So while I’m culturally and mentally very much Japanese, I’m aware that there are cities in Japan that would see me as nothing more than a Westerner. And even when it comes to prejudice, when travelling overseas, I struggled more with being an American in Europe than an African-American in Europe. Many I spoke with were more fine with me being of British-origin and black than being black and from the US specifically Texas.

Just remember that the narrative of history is ongoing and though some are fortunate enough not to struggle there are others that are not as fortunate. I’m lucky to have the education that I do, the family that I do and the heritage that I do. The opening quote of this blog is about dual consciousness and it’s very true for most African-Americans: there’s a pride to us and side to us that many aren’t eager to show to others. A set of social cues and lines we just don’t break. The quote above was first mentioned to me while reading To Kill a Mockingbird when Calpurnia mentions to Scout that there were two ways black people talked: the way they did in front of white people and the way they did in private with other black people and that each one must be separated and kept away from each other: the two halves of the average African-American person should be separate but equal. There’s more than one spirit inside every person of color: it’s just a question of how many spirits that is.